The news has finished killing the morale of the parents. French schools in Morocco will remain closed until the start of the September school year, as will all schools in the kingdom, where the state of health emergency has been extended until 10 June. However, the considerable sums now being spent on school fees in these popular schools will still have to be paid. For the parents of the 43,500 students in Morocco’s school system – the densest in the world – severely affected by the economic crisis linked to the coronavirus pandemic, the bill is heavy and its taste bitter.
“I’ve lost my job, I don’t have a salary anymore. My husband, who has just created his small business, is already on the verge of bankruptcy, we can’t afford to pay the 51,000 dirhams (4,700 euros) school fees for the third quarter for our three children,” lamented a 42-year-old mother in Casablanca Kenza.
She is one of the parents who have been mobilized since the beginning of the confinement to ask, through petitions and campaigns on social networks, for a reduction in the third trimester fees, which vary from one school to another. The cost to families is compounded by the need to equip themselves to maintain education at home: “Distance learning is a huge cost,” says Kenza. “We had to buy computers and a printer, and install fibre optics to overcome connection problems. And then, even though efforts have been made, educational continuity remains insufficient. »
“Lowering our children’s standards”
The discontent is all the stronger as school fees have been rising steadily in recent years, reaching 60% in ten years, according to a report drawn up in 2019 by French MP Samantha Cazebonne (LRM). With 375,000 students in 522 schools, the global network, coordinated by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE), has suffered severe budget cuts, which have had an impact on parents’ bills, despite an increase in grants for the most disadvantaged. In 2017, the austerity measures decreed by Emmanuel Macron also cut the subsidies to the AEFE by more than 8%. At the same time, however, the French President has set the goal of doubling the number of students in the French network of schools abroad by 2030. Education diplomacy that contributes to the influence of Paris and wants to counter the rise of Anglo-Saxons in this sector.
In order to continue to attract students without touching public funds, France has therefore increased the number of partnerships and approvals for private schools by relying on an associative player, the Mission laïque française (MLF). In Morocco, where demand is high, its local branch, the Office scolaire et universitaire international (OSUI), now has more than 10,000 pupils, compared with 300 when it was set up in 1996. Eighty-eight per cent of them are Moroccans. “They have built their entire development on the school fees that Moroccans pay. And now they threaten to kick our children out if we don’t pay! “Mounir Lazrak is outraged.
The father of two children enrolled at the French lycée Louis-Massignon in Casablanca is a member of the Collective of Independent Parents of OSUI establishments, created at the beginning of the confinement, which claims 1,600 members. They accuse the network of developing to the detriment of the quality of education and teacher training. This is the other consequence of budget cuts: the elimination of seconded teacher posts in favour of local contracts, which parents consider to be less well trained. Although the Lay Mission, for its part, emphasizes the effectiveness of the training networks it has set up and presents them as models.
“Home schooling has made us aware of our children’s declining standards. Already in normal times they find themselves in classes of 35 students,” insists Meryem Alaoui, also a member of the Collective. Today, the administration tells us “You chose it, so you have to pay for it.” People think we’re rich. The truth is that we’re bleeding ourselves to pay for their education because, given the state of the Moroccan public system, we have no choice! They know that and they’re playing on it. »
Freeze of September increase
Faced with the slump, the Kingdom’s French schools have announced a freeze on the tuition fee increases scheduled for the start of the new school year. We have given families almost two months to pay for the third term,” defends Catherine Bellus, OSUI coordinator in Morocco. We have also set up a financial aid scheme for the most vulnerable families. However, out of concern for privacy, we have chosen to remain discreet on this subject. »
The head of French diplomacy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has launched a support plan with an additional 50 million euros for the stock exchanges and a 100 million euro advance from the Treasury for the AEFE. “We have asked that this budget should also benefit non-French families and schools that have signed agreements or are partners,” says M’jid El Guerrab, deputy for the 9th constituency of French citizens abroad.
However, families are worried that the advance could end up affecting school fees. And those who threaten to leave the system are struggling to be heard. “In Morocco,” continued the MP, “the pressure on education is such that they will be told ‘It doesn’t matter: if you leave, there are hundreds of students on the waiting list for the next school year’. »